When captain Jamie Schaafsma signed with the Fort Wayne Komets last summer, he set the tone for the season by saying the goal was "Championship or bust." But it kind of blew up on him a little when the Komets lost in the second round of the playoffs.
So, after signing on Wednesday, what's the goal for the upcoming season? It's still the same thing.
"That's got to be the mentality in Fort Wayne," Schaafsma said. "That's what we expect and we try to bring in a team every year to compete for the championship. We want to win. My mantra doesn't really change. As I get older, it just makes me hungrier to win and I'm glad I have that opportunity again in Fort Wayne."
Despite turning 34 halfway through last season, Schaafsma produced the second-highest points of his career with 17 goals and 62 points. This will be his third season in Fort Wayne and second as player-assistant coach. Playing his 14th pro season, Schaafsma will be one of the Komets' four veterans of more than 260 regular-season games.
He'll also still be the guy who sets the tone in the locker room.
"I'm excited and eager to get back to Fort Wayne," he said. "Obviously, we get good teams in Fort Wayne, so I feel like the beginning of the year the goal is always going to be to win championships there. Why shouldn't it be? It's not like you're with an organization that just wants to improve on last year and make the playoffs. We want to win."
It's that competitive fire that the Komets need to harness, and Schaafsma said he likes the signings the team has made so far. All the guys who gave the most consistent efforts every game, the ones with great attitudes who helped the team to so many comeback wins last season are coming back. That's not a bad base to start from.
"We have to be better in all areas," Schaafsma said. "I've read things like they want to be younger and faster. Having an injection of youth and speed helps for sure and that coachible mentality, a new mix of guys, kind of. That might help but it's going to be a process. It's not easy. Right now the process begins with the front office getting the best players they can right now that can make us the best team we can be.
"As the season goes on you see where you are weak, you have to add the right pieces. For me, it's bringing back the right guys who were strong for us last year and were good in the dressing room and want to win. Finding new guys who have that same mentality and are hungry to play right now is very important."
After only qualifying seven players instead of a possible eight last week, Komets General Manager David Franke already had someone in reserve. Along with Schaafsma's signing, the team re-signed defenseman Curtis Leonard and forward Taylor Crunk. The Komets said these three players were already signed but were awaiting ECHL approval and that's why they were not added to the qualifying list.
Leonard, 24, will play his second full season in Fort Wayne after playing 10 games three seasons ago. He played 65 games last year with career-high numbers of four goals and 17 points, and was one of the steadiest team members on the blue line.
Over two seasons, Crunk, 22, has played 50 games with the Komets, scoring two goals and nine points with 128 penalty minutes.
The Komets have previously signed forwards Mason Baptista, Gabriel Desjardins, Garrett Thompson and newcomer Dennis Kravchenko, and defensemen defensemen Jason Binkley and Ryan Lowney.
Fort Wayne has given qualifying offers to goaltender Garrett Bartus, defensemen Cody Sol and Bobby Shea and forwards Mike Cazzola, Kyle Thomas, Trevor Cheek and Shawn Szydlowski, meaning the Komets retain their ECHL rights.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.